Jack Reacher: Never Go Back Review
A FAILED REACH OF A BANAL SEQUEL
The literary world, the character of the renegade alpha male character (i.e no-nonsense, brash, loose-cannon, etc.) has become a fix point in fascination, with several authors producing their own series built around that persona protagonist. The late Vince Flynn as the character of Mitch Rapp, Brad Thor as the character of Scott Harvath, and Lee Child has the character of Jack Reacher. Interestingly, of those three, Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, which has been featured in over 21 books that Child’s has written, has been adapted into a feature length movie. Debuting back in 2012, the film, titled Jack Reacher, followed the exploits of the chief character, played by actor Tom Cruise, through a series of action thrills and investigations nuances. The film, while received with mixed reviews, generated a little bit $200 million dollars at the box office (its production budget was $60 million), which was enough for the studio heads at Paramount Pictures to commission a sequel to the 2012 film. This bring us to the present as Cruise’s Reacher is back as Paramount Pictures and director Edward Zwick present Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. Does this second installment bring the action thrills or is it a misguided follow-up?
Hitting the road after cleaning up a recent sex trafficking ring, ex-military police major Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) is hitchhiking his way back to Washington D.C., finding companionship with Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders), Reacher’s successor to a Virginia-based military unit, the 110th MP, over the telephone. Hope to meet the woman in person, Jack is instead informed that Major Turner has been arrested on the grounds of espionage, in possession of sensitive information on her hard drive, which is tired to the mysterious death of two soldiers in Afghanistan. Making matters worse is Jack is when he receives word that he’s been accused / framed for the murder of her lawyer and also learning that he fathered an estranged daughter, Samantha Dayton (Danika Yarosh), 16 years ago. Slipping out of his custody and breaking Tuner out, Reacher and his new partner search for the person responsible for their crimes, working their way through military officials as they dodge bullets and evade their pursuer from “The Hunter” (Patrick Heusinger), an assassin who’s always one step behind, as Samantha soon joins the chase with them, complicating Jack’s life of being a loner.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Working at a bookstore, I’ve seeing many customers browse through and ask about novels that fit that description of an action male lead story. Thus, I always suggest those authors (Vince Flynn, Brad Thor, and Lee Child). I’ve read several books by Vince Flynn and Brad Thor (featuring their title characters of Mitch Rapp and Scott Harvath) and I’ve enjoyed them and recommend them to all (if you like those type of action hero type characters to read). As for the movie, I vaguely remember seeing the first film Jack Reacher. I haven’t seeing the complete movie, but I’ve seeing most of it to fully understand it. In short, Jack Reacher wasn’t the best, but it was effective to what it wanted to convey. This then comes back to this current my review of Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. I saw the trailer for this movie and it seems pretty standard for an action movie, but it was enough to peak my interest to actually read Lee Child’s novel of the same name (my first reading of a Lee Child novel. I just completed several days ago) and purchase a ticket to see the movie. What did I think of it? Well, unfortunately, it’s not a good one as Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is the very definition of a passable “movie sequel”, drumming up mediocre thrills and entertainment that don’t rise to the occasion or challenge what was done in the first feature.
While director Christopher McQuarrie helmed Jack Reacher, director Edward Zwick, who’s previous work includes The Siege, Defiance, and The Last Samurai (which also featured Tom Cruise), takes over directorial duties for Never Go Back. Zwick quickly establishes the tone of the movie from the get-go, with the opening scene (as seen in the trailer) with Cruise’s Reacher being arrested by smarmy country sheriff, only to have Reacher turn the tables and say that a phone’s going to ring and he’s (the sheriff) is going to be the one in the handcuffs. From there, Zwick immediately sets the tone of the feature up, breaking away from the more serious Jason Bourne-style action feature and more towards a quirky blend of action, drama, and humor. Meaning that Never Go Back is fully self-aware of this action, for better or worse. Interestingly, Zwick also paints a poignant position of females in the U.S. military, showcasing in the character of Major Turner. The character is a strong one and capable, despite Reacher’s (while good intentions) see Turner as female who’s in need of protection.
The biggest problem in Never Look Back is that it’s too banal, riffing on similar action movies that have come before it. While this is sometimes common for movies to do so (and even okay to a degree), the film must stand on its own, making its own indelible mark / stamp in the world of movies. Never Look Back doesn’t really do that, which is my biggest pet peeve. The story, while somewhat loosely based on Lee Child’s book of the same name, is pretty weak, offering the standard bland scenarios from past action features (i.e. framing someone and uncovering the truth behind it). As I said, I read the book and it seems that they kept some of the narrative’s beginning key points, but then changes shortly. Even the film’s dialogue, which does offer some humorous bits, is a bit laughable and (quite honest) not the sharpest for these types of movies.
The film’s action is also thrills are in short supply, with these sequences being few and far between. There basically almost absent in the movie’s second act. As for the action scenes themselves, there okay. What I mean is that they aren’t bad (there actually well-shot and choreographed good), but it’s nothing grand, no “OMG…did you see that!”. Basically, Zwick fills Never Go Back with the standard essentials that accompany action movies (i.e gun shootouts, fist cuff brawls, and car chases). While this is all good, quenching the thirst for those action junkies out there, these scenes feel derivate to the genre, which is adds to the film’s main problem of being generic. Also, a lot of the film’s greatest moments (be it funny bits or memorable scenes) were in the movie’s trailer. This sometimes happens with a movie as its trailers are presented with a lot of great material, hyping up viewers to see the feature. However, when I saw the movie, I was bit disappointed as there weren’t that many great memorable scenes that I personally liked (beyond the ones that were shown in the trailer). To conclude these negative points, Never Go Back is just unoriginal and too banal to being memorable, which may affect the entertainment value of watching such a feature.
Actor Tom Cruise returns to the role that he portrayed back in 2012’s film, stepping back in the boots of the lead protagonist of Jack Reacher. While the first film demonstrated the stoic power of the character, Never Go Back mixes it up a bit, blending melodrama, sardonic humor, and brash / tough guy talk. Given that the three traits are distinctly different from each other, it’s hard to pull off, especially with the narrative tasking Reacher to being flirtatious with Tuner and parental figure to a rebellious teen. Cruise does his best to circumnavigate such tricky pitfalls and comes out in favorable light, layering the action hero with his charm, action thrills, and fun performance. That being said, much like Jack Reacher, the character isn’t anything new to what we’ve seen before in both the action genre or in Cruise’s past performances. Personally, I see him on-screen as Jack Reacher in Never Go Back, but it’s hard to discern him from his previous roles as Roy Miller from Knight & Day or Ethan Hunt from the Mission Impossible movies. However, whether you like him or not in real life, Cruise is probably the best thing Never Go Back.
With Cruise headlining the movie, the supporting roles in Never Go Back are uneven and / or stock-like characters from the genre and similar films. Actress Cobie Smulders, who many known as Robin Scherbatsky from the TV show How I Met Your Mother and Maria Hill from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D) fills the role of Major Susan Turner. She does okay in that position, both lending a likeable face to the role and handles herself in some action scenes as well, but, while I did mention about the importance of the film’s approach to female commander in the U.S. military in one of the paragraphs above, her character is a bit clunky. While Cruise is able to spew out the crass / absurd one-liners with ease, Smulders’s dialogue lines seem a bit awkward and a bit forced. In addition, it also doesn’t help that she and Cruise have little to no chemistry with each other, so it’s a bit hard to swallow that the two are playing characters that have romantic spark with each other. All in all, while she was funny in HIMYM and kicks butt in the MCU, Smulders’s Turner is somewhere in the middle between the two, a mixture that has its merits and faults.
Behind Smulders, Danika Yarosh plays Samantha Dayton, Jack Reacher’s wayward daughter. Yarosh has some funny bits and handles herself well with her screen time with Cruise and Smulders (who she shares with most of the movie). In truth, she has more chemistry with Cruise than Smulders does. However, Yarosh becomes a bit annoying at times (almost grating at various points) and, as someone online said it best (because I have to agree with this) is that she is a poor man’s Anna Panquin (i.e. teeth, accent, etc.).
In the villain category, Never Go Back’s baddie is Hunter played by actor Patrick Heusinger. While Heusinger certain does look and act the part, it’s just nothing new to the role of which many have seen before. Think of “the Asset” character from the Bourne movies. In truth, the character of Hunter shadowy shell (carbon copy) of Jai Courtney’s Charlie from the first Jack Reacher film. While Courtney’s Charlie was a good fit in that movie (cold and calculating), Heusinger’s Hunter is more like a blaring rival sociopath to Reacher, who (for some reason) wants to even the score. It just seems a bit uninspiring in the character and in the role by Heusinger. Then there are roles of Holt McCallany’s Col. Morgan, Aldis Hodge’s Espin, and Robert Knepper’s Gen. Harkness, which are minor supporting roles, are acted well, but are one-dimensional in these characters offering to being plot device in serving the story to move forward. Lastly, Jack Reacher author, Lee Child, makes his Stan Lee cameo-like appearance in the movie. Be on the lookout for him.
Jack is back or rather Jack Reacher is back to “bash some heads” and tussle in gunfights in the movie Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. Director Edward Zwick’s latest film adaptation of Lee Child’s notable literary action hero character, has some fun elements to watch, blending action-drama aesthetics with some cheeky sardonic humor, most thanks to Cruise’s performance. Unfortunately, the movie just never clicks to what it wants to be, feeling derivative, generic, and uninspiring in its action, story, and in most of its one-dimensional characters. To me, it was passable film, for it had some moments mediocre entertainment, but it wasn’t a good or memorable feature. I rather have just stuck reading the novel as I might continue reading Child’s novels. Thus, under my recommendation, I would say rent it, to possible pacify some fans of Child’s work or those action movie savants out there. For everyone else, just skipping the movie altogether would be best course of action. In short, while Lee’s Child’s character of Jack Reacher continues to be celebrated in his novels (the next Reacher book is coming out on November 8th, 2016), the cinematic tale of Jack Reacher might be at its end with Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, with an inkling of closing the door on a once potential franchise.
2.6 Out of 5 (Rent It / Skip It)
Released On: October 21st, 2016
Reviewed On: October 23rd, 2016
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some bloody images, language and thematic elements